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West African Leaders to Urge Ivorian Leader to Step Down

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and President of Benin Republic Boni Yayi chats during their meeting at the emergency summit of Heads of States of ECOWAS on the political crisis in Ivory Coast in Abuja 24 Dec 2010.

A spokesman for former Ivorian Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara has welcomed as a positive development the scheduled visit by three West African heads of state, who intend to urge embattled President Laurent Gbagbo to step down or be forced from office.

Patrich Achi, who is also Minister of Infrastructure in Mr. Ouattara’s administration, told VOA regional leaders should force President Gbagbo to step down as a deterrent to other African leaders who, he said, harbor the ambition of “perpetually” holding onto power.

“He (Mr. Ouattara) has been very positive about this decision from the West African region to come here. We’ve tried everything we could, the whole international community, starting with the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS to press him (Mr. Gbagbo) to accept the results of the last election, but he wouldn’t do it,” said Achi.

“Today, I think they (ECOWAS leaders) are going to give him the last message that this is the last chance for him to be reasonable and to come down to reality and to understand that the only way to peacefully leave office is to go now.”

Three West African presidents are expected in Abidjan Tuesday to persuade Mr. Gbagbo to step down and hand over power to his rival, Mr. Ouattara. The leaders of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde are expected to offer Mr. Gbagbo political asylum in exchange for his resignation.

But, supporters of President Gbagbo say the embattled Ivorian leader will not step down despite increasing international pressure and isolation.

Both Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara claim they won last month's presidential election. The international community has recognized Mr. Ouattara as the winner and ECOWAS has threatened to use force to get Mr. Gbagbo to leave.

Achi said President Gbagbo, in his words, is acting crazy by refusing to step down. He said it is unlikely that President Gbagbo will adhere to calls to step down and hand over power to Mr. Ouattara.

“I hope that he (Mr. Gbagbo) will understand, but I have some doubts. But, I think that it was a necessary move, (by regional leaders to demand he step down). And, he (Mr. Ouattara) is really hoping that former President Gbagbo will understand.”